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“5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” With Kasondra Shippen

Products sell themselves when they are filled with high quality ingredients and have great selling attributes, such as Omega 3’s, Gluten-Free and, Dairy-Free. The single most important thing in the food business is it must taste good, if it doesn’t, they won’t buy again. I find that kids happen to be the best taste testers […]

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Products sell themselves when they are filled with high quality ingredients and have great selling attributes, such as Omega 3’s, Gluten-Free and, Dairy-Free. The single most important thing in the food business is it must taste good, if it doesn’t, they won’t buy again. I find that kids happen to be the best taste testers and give honest feedback!

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kasondra Shippen, General Manager for Flax4Life. She comes from a 5-generation family of bakers. After being born in Vancouver, BC, her family immigrated to the United States in her early teens and settled in Bellingham, WA. For the last 20 years, Kasondra has been an integral part of the company’s success. Her passion and hard work show through the commitment to running and maintaining the world of Flax4Life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Grew up in Vancouver, BC with my Mom, Dad, a brother, and sister. We spent most of our free time sailing, fishing and being outdoors. Our family has a 5-generation history of baking and distribution. When I was small my parents would bring us to the office, I can still remember the amazing smells that came from the factory, and all the treats we got to bring home! We moved to Bellingham WA when I was a teenager, with all the typical teenage issues, went to school initially to become a teacher, who doesn’t want summers off?! I initially started to just help around the bakery my parents owned, and then slowly started becoming more involved with the company. After many years of product development and changes, we created Flax4Life. It has been an amazing journey ever since.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

Our discussion to develop our nutritiously packed gluten-free baked goods came over two decades ago when a family member became very ill. After two years of not getting any answers and seeing countless doctors and specialists, they finally discovered that they were living with Celiac Disease. Shortly after, we discovered almost everyone in our family was either gluten-intolerant or had Celiac Disease. At that time, we noticed the lack of safe and delicious baked goods available for those living with food allergies. As a family of bakers with five generations of baking and distribution of baked goods history, it became their mission to develop products with many health benefits, are gluten-free, made with all-natural ingredients, and most importantly, tastes delicious.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Years ago, the FDA made some changes to include Coconut as a nut allergy, and we missed any notifications. The FDA reached out and notified us of our infraction of not properly labeling the allergen. Luckily, the FDA gave us a break, because we were able to correct the labels quickly. It was a scary experience, because we could have been fined thousands of dollars. We learned that it is very important to keep up on the latest regulation, and do plenty of research, and to send our labels in for review.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

One of the major lessons we’ve learned over the years is not just planning for today, but factoring in your goals for the next 5 years. When planning for space, production flow, and equipment invest in your future growth. Too often companies are stuck with inadequate production space and equipment after seeing some growth.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Research, Research, Research! Make sure you are aware of all your competitors, ingredient sources, market research, and regulations. Reach out to other manufactures or organizations in the industry and ask for advice. You will find many people are very willing to help.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Again, make sure you do most of your research ahead of time. This will give you a more successful path towards achieving your goals. Map out your 5-year plan, and ask for advice and help when needed. There are so many organizations out there to help small business succeed, don’t be afraid to reach out. Be prepared for a ton of rewarding, but hard work. You will have days that will crush you, but keep persisting.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Work your strengths, and consult for your weaknesses. For instance, if you’re an amazing baker, trust your formulation, and try it on your own. If you are weak at package design or inventory management reach out to a consultant. I would recommend driving the business yourself, and consult only some topic as needed.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Ask yourself, do you want to work for yourself or do you want to incorporate the business structure of a mass company. That should answer your question.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

One of the best ways to start narrowing the options is attend industry trade shows. Some of the larger events will have everything you need in one spot, and you are able to actually have a conversation with them. Just make sure to wear some comfy shoes, and bring a big water bottle.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. A well-researched idea-

Make sure your timing is right, where is the market, what is the knowledge base of the consumer…Do they know what GF is? Paleo? Keto? Timing is of the essence…

2. Relationships

Surround yourself with people in the industry to help you bounce ideas off of, ask advice, and to share notifications of regulation changes. Create a lasting network to help each other in times of need, and make yourself as available to help others.

3. Dedication, hard work, & persistence.

It can takes years to get a product going, lots of travel, food shows, long hours and dedication. One time I called on a store chain for 4 years trying to get them to carry our product. I would send a friendly email once a month, including some sales figures. Just when I was thinking I would never get the product listed, he finally responded. “I listed it last month, it in all 40 stores and the product is doing great” Lesson learned is never give up!

4. Quality products-

Products sell themselves when they are filled with high quality ingredients and have great selling attributes, such as Omega 3’s, Gluten-Free and, Dairy-Free. The single most important thing in the food business is it must taste good, if it doesn’t, they won’t buy again. I find that kids happen to be the best taste testers and give honest feedback!

5. Great Presentations-

Use your label to tell your story, call out the attributes in a clean and bold format, don’t overload it with too much information. Have a website that references your points and go into greater detail there. Make sure that is astatically appealing. Use social media platforms to present the story you want to tell.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Pay attention to trends, but don’t make this the main goal. For edible items, pay attention to quality, and most importantly taste. People won’t come keep investing in your company if you offer them a product that simply doesn’t hold up. Create something that fixes a problem by adding something to the lives of others.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We recognize we are part of the community in which we live. Our company frequently supports organizations that education on food allergies, feeds those in need, creates resources for those struggling with illnesses, and overall uplifts the community. We wouldn’t be where we are without our community, and it is vital to uplift those around us.

Also, as of this last September our company made the important discussion to reduce our environmental impact by investing in sustainable compostable packaging. The switch to eco-friendly and renewable packaging, thus reducing thousands of pounds of petroleum plastic in the environment, is a very proud and important change for our company. We’re focused on ensuring our products and our operations are as healthy and sustainable as possible and introducing compostable plant-based packaging allowed us to take the next big step in that direction.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Early and on-going education on the importance of nutrition and feeding your body healthy food. Many people underestimate the affects of what they put into their body. Give people the education at an early age to help them live a healthy and successful life.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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